Healthcare data is valuable. Not just to healthcare professionals and patients, but to criminals too. For some, the idea of a cybercriminal selling your personal health records on the dark web sounds too much like fiction. But it is a reality and due to the highly sensitive nature of health information – it can be used in any combination of identity theft, fraud and/or extortion.
Healthcare organisations that use, store and/or send personal health information (whether paper or electronic) have a legal responsibility to ensure that the data is secure. While most of the breaches we hear about in the media are attacks that compromise millions of personal records, small private medical practices face the same cyber threats as large healthcare organisations do.
The biggest challenge to data security in healthcare is that the threats are evolving, and new threats emerge constantly. That’s why it’s necessary to take a proactive and sophisticated approach to address and reduce risks to data exploitation. In this blog we’ve outlined 6 best practice strategies that every practice should have in place, to safeguard both practice and patient data.
1. Conduct regular risk assessment
Regular risk assessments are the only way to proactively identify and mitigate security risks. A comprehensive audit will reveal vulnerabilities in your network, potential risks posed by your staff and help you stay current with ever-changing threats. If you don’t know where you stand on all of these issues, you are inadvertently opening up your practice to data attacks. And for private practices, the cost to your reputation and penalties from regulatory bodies, is enough to put your business in serious jeopardy.
Protect your practice against theft – identify the weaknesses in your data security and address them immediately.
2. Educate & train your staff
Experience has demonstrated that in most instances, the weakest security link in your medical practice will be the user aka your staff. From human error to negligence to ignorance on common scams – these are some of the primary reasons why practice staff need to be educated on the appropriate caution to take when handling software with patient data.
Plus don’t forget about your paper records – Yes, not every problem lies in your health information technology. Sometimes, you need to look at something a little old-school to keep your data safe. You may have the most secure EMR/EHR system in the world, but ignoring paper record security can just as easily lead to a data breach. For example: leaving a file open on the front desk, or, even worse, leaving records out in the open unlocked cabinet. If you operate a hybrid paper and digital practice, take paper records into consideration when conducting a risk assessment and training your staff. Ensure that these files are always safely and securely stored.
3. Control the access levels to your data
A vital step to protecting your data is to assign different levels of access to the appropriate individuals. Staff should only have access to the data that is relevant to their work and you and your technology partner should be able to monitor and audit who accessed what data, when and from where. It’s in the interest of your patients and your business to apply best practice guidelines when using software:
- Assign each user their own unique login. Never share or use the same logins – doing so makes it much harder to track the source of a data breach.
- Set rules for users. This is in line with educating your staff to use caution when handling data.
- Log all access and data usage. If an incident occurs you want to be able to follow an audit trail to pinpoint weaknesses or breaks in your security measures, understand why they happened, gauge the damage and ultimately, fix the problem in real time.
- Be sure to revoke access from past employees or partners.
- Use your technology’s data controls to block actions involving sensitive data – this prevents data from being printed, copied to external hard drives, sent by unauthorised emails, or uploaded to the internet.
- Implement electronic health records that enable you to control access to information.
4. Don’t put off software updates
Your technology partner plays a crucial part in ensuring that your data is secure. But the inconvenience that comes along with software updates is enough to avoid it – especially when your practice is busy. Fortunately, practices that use cloud-based software don’t have to deal with these kinds of interruptions and delays. Cloud-based technology providers can run updates remotely and are usually done in the late evening when most practices are closed to avoid disruptions. This means virtually no downtime while your system updates with the latest security patches and protection.
5. Never store data on user devices
One of the benefits of running a digital practice is that you can do so from anywhere, but it is also a massive threat to your data security if patient data is stored locally on the user’s device. Mobile phones, laptops, tablets, etc. are all portable and at risk of being lost, stolen, or hacked. It’s another reason why cloud-based software solutions are better at ensuring data security than systems stored on desktop applications.
When storing information in the cloud, authorised users can access the data from any location, using any device – but the data is not stored on the device itself. This means that neither you nor your staff, are putting privacy or data security at risk when accessing practice data.
6. Install better software
It is crucial that your technology partner prioritises cyber security in their software. The security of your data isn’t solely your responsibility as a healthcare practitioner – your staff and software partners are custodians of patient data too. If you are working with a provider that is slow to respond to attacks, and ranks features above security – it might be time to change providers.
Include and evaluate providers in your risk assessment and work with those who have a proven track record of acting fast when new threats are identified and addressing threats proactively.
Healthbridge is the technology partner of choice to over 5 000 medical practitioners. They have been helping doctors secure their data and run profitable practices for over 20 years. For more about how Healthbridge can help you improve your data security, click here for a free assessment.
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